Why Pay For Virtual Goods? Paperless PostSFGate May 23, 2012 Back to press
Why Pay For Virtual Goods? Paperless Post
Whether you’re planning a birthday party or wedding, Paperless Post’s online stationary will make you think twice before shelling out hundreds or even thousands of dollars to print paper invitations. Their e-cards are incredibly well designed and really do look and feel like digital versions of invitations you’d get printed in a high-end stationary store. You can customize the paper weight, font colors, envelope liners and even choose between typefaces that look like letter-pressed or engraved calligraphy – all for a fraction of the price of traditional paper printing.
How do they do it? According to Paperless Post co-founder James Hirschfeld, the New York City-based startup has a seven person design team led by a talented creative director who has previously worked for Conde Nast magazines and Bergdorf Goodman. The designers use a variety of techniques to create the templates, ranging from hand-drawing to collage, and Hirschfeld admits that their office “doesn’t look like the most startup’s” with drafts of artwork all over the place and computer engineers sharing space with artists. But it’s this “mix of engineers and artists,” as Hirschfeld puts it, that makes the startup so dynamic.
Hirschfeld co-founded the company with his sister Alexa while he was still an undergraduate at Harvard in 2008. They worked in stealth mode while they were developing the initial product. James didn’t even tell his college roommates what he was working on, and Alexa kept it a secret from her boss at the time – Katie Couric. The original vision was to “give users the tools to make a piece of online communication that looked more special than an email,” James says, and even though many of their advisors warned them against it, Paperless Post made users pay from the beginning. “Coming to our pricing model was a huge part of defining who we were and figuring out what our brand was,” James says. Currently, to send a custom card you pay using “coins,” a virtual currency where $5.00 gets you 25 “coins.” According to a recent article about Paperless Post in the Wall Street Journal, the average amount spent on a custom e-card or invitation last November was 19 cents, and people are willing to pay the price. From September through November last year, five million cards and invitations were sent through Paperless Post, up 70% from the same period in 2010.
Why are people willing to pay? According to James it’s because their product is still an amazing alternative to print with customers getting “all of the design, all of the customization, and the personal feeling but you wouldn’t have to go and spend $6.00 an invitation on a piece of paper which then gets thrown out.” Plus, because their cards are ad-free, they can be used for more private, intimate invitations like weddings or anniversary parties, where ads on invites just seem inappropriate.
Check out the interview with James Hirschfeld below to learn more about Paperless Post and hear about some of their new products, including a series of free cards that are intended to be more casual.